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  1. #1
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    Mega TR: Mt. Gould & Palisade Crest Tour

    Dates: Monday, May 22 Friday, May 26, 2017

    Locations: Mt. Gould & West of Palisade Crest, Eastern Sierra

    Skiers: Enginerd & UCL

    Photos: As noted

    Synopsis: With a great winter and a huge spring snowpack in the Eastern Sierra, Enginerd and I spent the early part of May pouring over topo maps and deciding where to plan a five day ski tour. We had originally intended to cross the range over a variation of the Monarch Divide tour, but ultimately the hassle of car logistics turned us towards a loop style tour starting and ending on the Eastside. With no shortage of terrain, it was simply identifying a zone we wanted to stay in for five days. As is the case, sometimes planning only takes you so far, as we had set out originally on a tour leaving out of Onion Valley, but a broken ski boot on the first day quickly changed our plans. Fortunately, some quick MacGyvering ultimately kept the train on the rails, albeit on an entirely different track!

    Our original intended tour was to leave from Onion Valley trailhead and climb and ski Mt. Gould, and then head over the vicinity of Rixford pass to camp near Dragon Lake. We would then ski Dragon Couloir on Dragon Peak the next day, before heading further West towards Gardiner Basin. In Gardiner Basin, we intended to ski a combination of Mt. Gardiner, Mt. Cotter and Mt. Clarence King, before heading back over Dragon Pass to ski Mt. Gould again.

    After packing up our 40L packs (going light as typical), we loaded the car and headed towards Onion Valley. It was sad to leave Sarah, Jack and Ben, but I was super thankful to have Sarah willing to watch the boys for 5 days while I could play in the mountains. Handling two, 14-month olds that are toddling around and getting into all sorts of stuff is serious business! Thank you Sarah!!!

    Day 1 Mt. Gould to Survival Ski to Bailtown

    Enginerd and I drove up to Onion Valley trailhead and crashed outside by the side of the car. The next morning we woke up early and put the skis on the packs, as we started with a 10 minute dirt walk before hitting snow (which we booted for a bit until skins made sense). Enginerd ready to rock. Photo: UCL



    I hadn't been in the mountains since February. Despite being in good shape from pretty substantial training for a couple of half ironman races, the altitude was hitting me hard. I just kept it at a nice pace as we headed up the East face of Mt. Gould. Photo: Enginerd



    We got to the top shoulder of Mt. Gould and emptied out all of the overnight gear from our packs, deciding to ski down on the East Face which was just coming into the perfect corn window. I was pumped to get my first turns in after several months. Photos: Enginerd





    The East Face was excellent. Enginerd heads further down, with the Owen's River Valley (and Nevada) off in the distance). Photo: UCL



    Fortunately we had light packs, as I was moving slow on the climb back up, still adjusting to the altitude (Mt. Gould summits out at 13,012 feet). We got back up to the shoulder and re-loaded our packs and ate some food. Enginerd headed over to scramble to the top of the summit proper. Photo: UCL



    I chilled on the flank to get photos, and Enginerd grabbed some of me with University Peak off in the distance. Photo: Enginerd



    When you get over the first crest of the Eastern Sierra and get a good look further West, you quickly realize we had a great winter this year. The entire range is stacked with snow. Photos: Enginerd, UCL, Enginerd







    After taking some pics, we booted over towards the saddle between Dragon Pass and Rixford Pass, looking for the best way down towards Dragon Lake. There was a lot of rocks and buried talus. After finally deciding a good path down, we started to gear up to descend. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that my boot buckle had broken. Even worse, it was the critical buckle on the Dynafit Mercury that dictates whether you are in walk mode or ski mode. Without this buckle engaged, it is basically impossible to ski (definitely not any steep couloirs or faces). Photo: Enginerd



    After examining the boots, I realized I could at least jam in the buckle into the walk mechanism so I could ski down. Some duct tape and two voile straps would somewhat hold it in place. Photo: Enginerd



    We debated for a while what to do. It was clear the setup was not sound and I was not comfortable skiing our objective the next day, Dragon Couloir, with this as my boot. Given it was only the first day of the tour and we could quickly ski back down to the car, we decided to pull the plug and bail, drive to Mammoth and hope that I could get the boot fixed early the next morning before heading back into the mountains. So we bailed, which included Enginerd skiing the North Face of Mt. Gould. The portion I dropped in was breakable crust, which was a complete non-starter in my boot. So I just traversed back over to the East Face that was still nice corn, and delicately skied back down, linking up with Jon and heading to the car. We headed to Mammoth, got some pizza and camped out, hoping for the best the next day.
    Last edited by Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer; 06-08-2017 at 11:50 PM.

  2. #2
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    Day 2 – South Lake to Bishop Pass and Dusy Basin

    Long story short, I was not able to procure a new buckle for my boot. Nor was I able to find a pair of demo boots that fit and I was comfortable taking on a 4 day tour. Fortunately, I came up with a solution to buy 2 more heavy duty XXL voile straps, and between the 4 straps it really held the buckle strongly in place. No duct tape would be needed (as that was a pain regardless with skin to ski transitions). Enginerd and I chatted a bit, as it was already noon. Rather than drive all the way south to Onion Valley, we decided to change it up and go to Bishop and do a 4 day tour hugging the West Side of the Palisades. We would go in at South Lake, head over Bishop Pass, Thunderbolt Col, Potluck Pass, an unnamed Col and Southfork Pass, exiting the South Fork of Big Pine Creek (where we had a ride lined up). There were a ton of potential options for good descents on this tour, and it would prove to be super scenic.

    Back at the trailhead for a nice "alpine" start of around 1 PM. Take number two as they say. Photo: Enginerd



    The climb up to Bishop Pass proved to be super hot, but fortunately we were not crossing under or across any solar exposed slopes that we would be worried about that time of day. This was the only day we saw any other folks, and it was only near South Lake as several parties were exiting from day-trips to the Mt. Gilbert vicinity, as well as a couple of multi-day trips coming from Treasure Lakes and Kearsarge Pass (that was a big 7-day tour for those folks!).

    South Lake was still "frozen", but basically calving like a glacier. It was pretty cool to see. Needless to say, we skinned around it… Photos: Enginerd





    Enginerd checking out Mt. Goode in the distance. Enginerd and Mike climbed the prominent North Buttress of Mt. Goode a couple of years ago. Photo: UCL



    We continued on, heading up towards Bishop Pass (~12,000 feet). The sun was strong and it was quite warm, but we were prepared for those conditions the next four days. Photos: Enginerd









    On our way up past Bishop Pass, we had our eyes on Mt. Agassiz (13,899 feet) for the next day, which had a couple of really aesthetic looking lines on the Northeast face virtually from the summit. Due to foreshortening, it was tough to really tell how steep they were (particularly the upper portion). I was admittedly a bit hesitant with my boot setup, but we discussed over the course of the day and I settled that I was fine heading back early the next morning to boot up, and if I got to a point where it was too steep for my comfort zone with the MacGyver Boots I would just ski from there.

    Meanwhile, we dropped a nice short descent in great corn snow to a bench around 11,500 feet, looking down at Dusy Basin. Photos: UCL, Enginerd, Enginerd







    We dug out the mid on the bench with views of the Westside of Mt. Winchell (13,775 feet) and Thunderbolt Peak (14,003 feet) on one side, and Dusy Basin stretching out West on the other. Photos: Enginerd, UCL





    If you have read my past multi-day trip reports, I am sure you would see that I am a strong believer in the MegaMid for Eastern Sierra spring tours. I don't think there is a lighter setup, particularly when you use skis for the corners and ski poles for the interior suspension. The snow floor is an added bonus, as you really don't have to worry about spilling water when melting snow. This year, Jon built a pretty nice "canister jacket" for the Jetboil out of an old Ridge Rest pad and some Gorilla tape. It worked awesome and kept the canister warm(ish), so long as you didn't spill snow in it. Photo: UCL



    This was the only night of the trip we were forced to melt snow for water, as the rest of our bivy spots had access to lake edges that we could break through the ice. This was also our only real mistake of the trip, as we could have dropped like 500 additional vertical feet to get water and also get lower to sleep. Despite having slept at 9,000 feet at Onion Valley, climbing Mt. Gould twice (13,012 feet) and sleeping in Mammoth the night before (~9,000 feet), I was still struggling with altitude headaches and some generally uneasiness that night. I was surprised it was still bothering me, but ultimately I hadn't been in the mountains much this year given my boys just turned one. I suspect that extra 500 feet would have helped get a better night's sleep. Fortunately, I largely was OK the rest of the trip (but took it steady on the climbs).

    Alpenglow on the Palisade Crest that evening. Photo: Enginerd


  3. #3
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    Day 3 – Dusy Basin to Thunderbolt Col to Potluck Pass to below Palisade Crest

    The next day was the one day where the weather forecast had called for 30% chance of thundershowers and snow/rain. The range had been for between 11AM and 9 PM. However, we woke up to very cloudy skies, particularly up on the Crest. Jon and I debated a bit and decided that heading up to climb Mt. Agassiz was not the smartest move given it was already cloudy at 6AM. We cooked up some breakfast, broke down camp and started heading over the Thunderbolt Col to eventually go over Potluck Pass and drop into a lake just West of Polemonium Peak, Mt. Sill, Mt. Jepson and Palisade Crest. Our plan was to generally ski over in that area.

    The early morning conditions were prime for Enginerd to boot with crampons on, and I just rocked ski crampons. It made for very quick travel. As we got near Thunderbolt Col, the skies basically entirely cleared up… we were a bit bummed as we could have skied Mt. Agassiz (as it would not get socked in again until much later in the afternoon). Nevertheless, we knew if we kept moving quickly we could get to our next camp, set it up and get some good skiing in.

    Enginerd looking up at the Westside of Thunderbolt Peak (14,003 feet) and North Palisade (14,249 feet). Photo: UCL



    We took a couple of other photos, transitioned to skis and did a long traverse under North Palisade over to Potluck Pass. Transitions were not too bad for me with the four voile straps, but definitely slower than working boots would have been. Photos: UCL





    At Potluck Pass we scoped a frozen lake that had a slight sheet of exposed ice near the confluence of a stream that looked like we could break through to get water. So we decided to drop down and set up camp there. The entire zone was underneath Polemonium Peak (14,080 feet), Mt. Sill (14,154 feet), Mt. Jepson (13,390 feet) and Palisade Crest (13,560 feet). Photos: Enginerd, UCL





    After a sweet descent, we got down to where we were going to dig out the mid quickly and dump our overnight gear to get some skiing in. Thumbs up for the zone we were in, thumbs down for how hot the sun was! Photo: Enginerd



    From camp, there were two separate cols that we would be taking to exit after skiing some peak(s) the next day, so we wanted to scout them out. They also both offered very long, good open slopes that appeard to be coming into perfect corn condition. UCL breaking trail up to the higher col. Photo: Enginerd



    After reaching the col and scouting out what laid in store later the next day, we dropped down for an awesome run all the way back to the lake. Enginerd descending with Polemonium Peak, Mt. Sill, Mt. Jepson and Palisade Crest towering up above, respectively. Photo: UCL



    UCL following down the upper portion of the run from the col. It was excellent skiing. Photo: Enginerd



    The other benefit of being up at that col was that we had great views of some prominent West-facing chutes on Mt. Sill. They looked manageable (with the top portions looking pretty steep). We couldn't see the Polemonium Glacier, as it was obscured, but we were pretty certain it would have plenty of snow. So this sparked the idea for an alpine start the next morning to head up there and poke around to ski something near a summit.

    Meanwhile, we headed back up to check out another col. UCL on our earlier uptrack, and you can see part of our tracks coming down from the col way off in the distance just to my left shoulder. Photo: Enginerd



    This is such beautiful country, and the High Sierra just go on forever. So many mountains to explore, but on skis and rock climbing. With a very stable spring snowpack and super solid granite, really there is no reason to ever head anywhere else. You can't run out of objectives in a lifetime of exploring these peaks. Photo: Enginerd



    The wind was starting to crank at the second col and weather was moving in. The early morning clouds had set the warning, but really things didn't start to develop until early afternoon. We got another fantastic descent all the way back to the mid. Here you can barely make it out as a spec in the snow in the lower right portion of the picture, dead left from the noticeable ice (where we got water). Photo: UCL



    Great skiing in a great setting. Photos: Enginerd







    We lucked out as our spot West of the Crest ended up staying dry. Over the course of the late afternoon, the Crest itself was dark and packed in with clouds (and it looked like there was precip right on the other side). Further West of us was also clearly raining. We built the mid walls very high on the backside, as the winds picked up. It held up great, though. Photo: UCL



    We settled in for a pretty early night, as the plan was to wake up at 4AM the next day to be able to get up on Polemonium Peak or Mt. Sill early for the corn window, ski, breakdown camp and then head quite a long distance to our next camp over by Mt. Bolton Brown and Disappointment Peak, in the shadow of Southfork Pass.

    Really an outstanding camp. Photo: Enginerd



    Obligatory TR selfie, staying warm as the temps drop and we are gearing up to cook some food. Photo: UCL


  4. #4
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    Day 4 – Polemonium Peak to Basin below Disappointment Peak, Southfork Pass and Mt. Bolton Brown

    The benefit of waking up at 4AM is the stars are still in full force in the High Sierra. The winds had gradually died down throughout the night and all of the cloud cover dissipated. Photo: UCL



    We got going as the sun started to rise. All of the snow had a great re-freeze, so booting with crampons was the fastest method of travel. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    As we climbed up, the winds were picking up. It was fine, but we started to realize we were going to get up high a bit early. When the full Polemonium Glacier had come into view, we quickly settled that we wanted to ski it, as it really looked full with snow and a great descent from basically next to the rocky, pinnacle summit of Polemonium Peak. Photos: Enginerd, Enginerd





    We got to the top and took a bunch of photos, as the views were outstanding in basically every direction. Photos: UCL, Enginerd, UCL, Enginerd









    Obligatory near-summit selfie. The spire from Polemonium Peak is off to the left out of view, and North Palisade (14,249 feet) is off in the distance. Photo: UCL



    We chilled up in the rocks for about an hour and a half waiting for the wind to settle down and snow to soften. Ultimately around 10AM we decided to descend, as we had a big day of travel left. The snow was still great, soft corn in spots and very nice, edgeable chalk in others. It was awesome to descend from the highest possible point on Polemonium. Photos: UCL, Enginerd, UCL







    As we continued on, the snow got even better. We descending from approximately 14,000 feet to our camp at 11,500 feet. Simply amazing skiing. Photos: UCL, Enginerd, Enginerd







    After many high-fives, we ate some food and broke down camp. We headed back up the skin track from the prior day to the higher col, as our plan was to descend a bit on the other side by try and stay high for the journey out to Mt. Bolton Brown, rather than dropping into a canyon that appeared to have a lot of point-release, wet slide activity from rocks. Photo: UCL



    The descent off the other side of the col was more excellent skiing. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    We eventually donned the skins and held a high traverse, happy to not be in the sweltering heat in the canyon below faces like this. Photo: Enginerd



    From our prior Northern vantage point, we knew we wanted to camp at an unnamed lake South of Disappointment Peak, West of Southfork Pass and North of Mt. Bolton Brown. We originally had thought that we were going to ski the North face of Mt. Bolton Brown, but as Disappointment Peak started to come into view it was obvious that the South Face was the line to ski early the next day. Photo: Enginerd



    We set up a great camp just looking up at Disappointment Peak, right next to some ice we could break through for water. It couldn't get any better. Photo: UCL


  5. #5
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    Day 5 – Disappointment Peak to Southfork Pass to Glacier Lodge

    We woke up at 4AM again the next day and got going again with breakfast and then on the move. The upper portion of the South Face of Disappointment Peak (13,917 feet) was being painted in morning glow, just enticing us to climb higher. Once again, crampon travel was the fastest method that early. Photo: Enginerd



    Another outstanding climb with incredible views. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    So many remote, huge alpine walls and buttresses. There are endless climbing opportunities back here in the summer. Photo: Enginerd



    We got up to the top, which was a sub-summit from the actual summit of Disappointment Peak (which is a pretty rock spire). There really was no wind and it was warming quickly, so we were able to get going quickly. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    Words can't really describe how awesome of a descent this was. Excellent snow and very, very long. Really incredible, and it was amazing as I didn't think it was possible to top the prior day. I'm torn which day I enjoyed better, so I will just toss it up to a tie. Tough life, indeed! Photos: UCL, UCL, Enginerd







    Once again, after many high fives we packed up camp and started the climb to Southfork Pass. The sun was super hot and the upper portion of the Westside of the pass was all rock. We honestly were not sure what was in store from the other side, but there were some old boot and ski tracks coming down the Westside so we knew it at least went. Photos: Enginerd, UCL





    After getting over the top, we were treated to an amazing surprise of an excellent steep couloir that ran into endless snow as far as the eye could see down the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. Really the stars aligned for us on that. The top ~15 feet of the couloir was icy, but then it opened up into awesome snow. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    We then proceeded to drop thousands of feet of elevation, further and further down the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. Just fast, wonderful skiing. Photo: UCL



    Looking back up at Middle Palisade (14,019 feet) and Norman Clyde Peak (13,681 feet). Enginerd mentioned that someone recently skied the prominent couloir on Middle Palisade, which is SUPER burly. Hats off to whomever did that! Photo: Enginerd



    Eventually we got constricted in the canyon and the South Fork was cranking from the spring runoff. Some tricky skiing to get around. Enginerd with his "I suppose I can point it right next to this tree and hope for the best" face. In reality, getting around this was a piece of cake. Photo: UCL



    Ultimately, no Eastside trip would be complete without some Manzanita schwacking. Photos: UCL, Enginerd





    We mistakenly got on the wrong side of the creek at some point over snow, and ended up down further trying to get through alders and cross the creek (which was raging and no real chance). So we had to backtrack for ~15 minutes, cross back over a snow bridge and link up with the trail. At that point, it was smooth sailing down to Glacier Lodge. Our ride was supposed to come at 3:30, but we were a couple of hours early. A very nice couple from Incline Village were kind enough to take us in their car down to Bishop. I can't tell you how honorable that was, given we really smelled horrible. They seemed genuinely fascinated by the fact we just walked out of the mountains with skis, so it all worked out in the end.

    Another great, spring multi-day mission in the archives. Already thinking about the next one!

  6. #6
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    Great TR (so far, only got through day three.)

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
    iscariot

  7. #7
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    Yes! Awesome route, two top-notch summits, and great TR - well done.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for sharing!
    "Alpine rock and steep, deep powder are what I seek, and I will always find solace there." - Bean Bowers

    meager stoke

  9. #9
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    Cool beans.
    Well maybe I'm the faggot America
    I'm not a part of a redneck agenda

  10. #10
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    Awesome spring tour.

    Why did that buckle break?
    [quote][//quote]

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dexter Rutecki View Post
    Awesome spring tour.

    Why did that buckle break?
    Although I can't say for certain, I suspect it was just booting through snow on a ridge and hitting a buried rock. The entire buckle was hanging there, snapped in half when I went to next ski. I always have it under my pant cuff when in walk mode, but that does nothing to really prevent it snagging on a rock. Definitely a bit of a weak spot in the boot design (where the buckle is on your outside of the ankle cuff a bit protruded when in walk mode), on an otherwise great boot. I'm going to see if I can get a replacement buckle from Dynafit.

  12. #12
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    Yeah, that's what I figured (hit on a rock postholing or something), but asked since that's one I've never seen. I've seen boots blow up in a number of ways I couldn't have predicted, and have personally dealt with parts of buckles exploding, but nothing quite like that. Kind of disturbing (not that any boot failure is a good one).
    [quote][//quote]

  13. #13
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    Great trip.

  14. #14
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    Awesome! such a cool range
    Ich bitte dich nur, weck mich nicht.

  15. #15
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    That was awesome. Thanks for posting!

  16. #16
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    Great Trip Report. Looks like one hell of an adventure/slog. Great exposure of the Range of Light. Thanks for taking the time to write it up

  17. #17
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    Nice job, dude! Bummer about the buckle.

  18. #18
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    great adventure! thx for sharing!

    (note to self: to consider trips like this requires half ironman fitness, and even then, you get winded at elevation)

  19. #19
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    fucking awesome!

  20. #20
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  21. #21
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    Outstanding! I pity the fool that didnt ski tour in the Sierras this season

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer View Post
    Although I can't say for certain, I suspect it was just booting through snow on a ridge and hitting a buried rock. The entire buckle was hanging there, snapped in half when I went to next ski. I always have it under my pant cuff when in walk mode, but that does nothing to really prevent it snagging on a rock. Definitely a bit of a weak spot in the boot design (where the buckle is on your outside of the ankle cuff a bit protruded when in walk mode), on an otherwise great boot. I'm going to see if I can get a replacement buckle from Dynafit.
    Precisely what happened to my Mercury buckle. Dynafit gave me a replacement, although for the other boot, so its mismatched.

    Great TR and trip.
    Quote Originally Posted by Benny Profane View Post
    Keystone is fucking lame. But, deadly.

  23. #23
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    So cool. Such a great trip and amazing skiing.

    That said..duct tape on the heel? Come on! Luekotape for the crushing win.


  24. #24
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    Sick TR dude.

    x2 on the leukotape.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ernest_Hemingway View Post
    I realize there is not much hope for a bullfighting forum. I understand that most of you would prefer to discuss the ingredients of jacket fabrics than the ingredients of a brave man. I know nothing of the former. But the latter is made of courage, and skill, and grace in the presence of the possibility of death. If someone could make a jacket of those three things it would no doubt be the most popular and prized item in all of your closets.

  25. #25
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    Finally got back to finish this epic trip. I was exhausted just reading it.

    +3 on the leukotape. Got turned onto it in BC, good stuff.

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
    iscariot

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